‘Saturday Night Live’ star Pete Davidson is now a pop culture icon, albeit for a strange reason. More than his work on the show, he is ingrained in people’s minds for his specific quirks and mannerisms. Often, even the show doesn’t seem to understand how best to fit him in. In Hulu’s coming-of-age comedy Big Time Adolescence, we get a blueprint of how very specific styles of performance can be utilised, as a character which Davidson adds new dimensions to.
The film, which was still in its theatrical run in the United States when cinemas were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, was dropped to Hulu this week. As a typical indie which has enjoyed a positive festival run last year, this bodes well for its viewership. It is right now that we need positive messaging in our content more than ever, and such refreshing takes on dealing with life caters to that. Davidson plays Zeke, a 23-year-old good-for-nothing who still hasn’t grown up from his aimless adolescent existence. He finds reverence in the form of his ex-girlfriend’s little brother Mo (played by Just Go With It kid Griffin Gluck). Slowly, Pete becomes Mo's mentor and best friend. But as their connection grows, Mo becomes more disconnected to the reality of his own growth by getting embroiled into a world of parties and drugs. Overall though, Big Time Adolescence addresses such serious issues in a quirky crowd-pleasing way.
Writer-director Jason Orley gives us an updated version of something right out of the ‘Brat Pack’ era. An awkward but mostly good-natured kid, the jungle that is high school, the need to fit in and be cool, a questionable influence, many moments of sympathetic hilarity, and a finale where a heartening lesson has been learnt. We’ve seen it in John Hughes’ movies (there’s even a homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Perhaps the addition of Jon Cryer in the film’s cast as Mo’s dad makes perfect sense because this could very well be him a few decades later.
Zeke often uses ‘you remember what it was like to be a teenager,’ which is precisely its main point. Mo is robbed of his childhood as Zeke introduces him to more ‘adult stuff.’ Here is a man who is reliving his childhood through another, as a child in a hurry to grow up. These two confused souls are in a believable authentic connection because they both find each other to fulfil their deepest desire. It is the writing of the movie that avoids falling into the trap of being a dark and depressing take on peer pressure. Zeke possesses a genuine affection for Mo and his reason for teaching Mo his ways is more because he has never had a positive influence on his life, one where he was forced to take stock of his indiscretions. We see both boys in earnest, and it is their connection which is our main take-away.
In a world such as this, it is very easy to dislike someone like Zeke, especially because his slacker behaviour stems essentially from nothing. And the frustration that it could be passed on to Mo is palpable. Still, Davidson adds a lot of depth and credibility to Zeke. With his effortless performance, we get the feeling that he is playing someone who could possibly be a slightly zany extension of his real-life persona. In spite of being daft, we still forgive Zeke and root for the boys to find themselves again. But the real star is Griffin Gluck, who has a relatable charm. He makes it easy to believe why he’d worship someone like Zeke, but also just enough for us to feel the urgency of wanting for him to realise the disastrous connection he’s got himself into.
In spite of a central plot which is quite insightful, Big Time Adolescence is to an extent in a confused state of whether it wants to be a laugh-out-loud comedy (although there are some scenes which warrant laughter) or a cautionary tale with out-of-the-box characterisation. The relationship that Mo shares with his parents seem odd and half-baked, with minimal effort from their side to control his relationship with Zeke in its initial stages. The bizarre subplot about Zeke’s personal life adds little to his characterisation as well. The reason we care is that Davidson plays him well, and not much else.
Still, Big Time Adolescence has an attitude which is deliciously vulgar without it being distasteful. A lot of the takes on drugs, sex, partying and alcohol are taken on face value, as they would be by boys of this kind. The crude demeanour that Zeke’s decadent clique embodies is all the more reason to find it so seductive. And the chemistry between Gluck and Davidson helps make it believable. Even with its predictability (as I mentioned, the film is just an ‘80s upgrade), the film becomes an interesting character study of adolescence and how toxic dynamics can affect people. The humour also elicits from the character work and small gags which are rather funny.
Music and Other Departments
Orley has a rather interesting visual style where two the lives of the two characters are often mirrored in the framing and feel of the scene they’re in. Zeke’s life is careless, and his scenes are designed that way. Mo’s feels more stable, but the only place where they’re both equally lost is understanding their place in the world, which is why a museum scene blends their aesthetic together. The film also segues its music across generations - going from retro to contemporary, perhaps as a way to emphasise on the universality of its protagonists’ predicament.
Did I Enjoy It?
Yes, quite. I am a big fan of John Hughes’ teen comedies from the ‘80s and Judd Apatow’s early noughties look at high school and college cliques. This movie is a welcome mix of both.
Do I Recommend It?
Yes. It’s a shrewdly written vehicle for Pete Davidson where both he and his co-stars emerge as excellent surrogates for our own insecurities. Definitely relatable.
Rating : 3.5/5 stars